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John Russell will make a no-party bid for 5th Congressional District

BROOKSVILLE — John Russell says he didn't simply wake up one morning and decide he would make a fourth run for Congress.

"My decision was based on an accumulation of evidence that the current political system is terribly broken with little to no representation for the vast majority of citizens," he said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

The 55-year-old acute care nurse practitioner from Dade City has prefiled for the 5th District seat won last year by former Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent, a Spring Hill Republican.

But instead of running as a Democrat, as he did in his three prior tries, Russell is making this bid as a no-party candidate.

"I hope to offer the voters a positive citizen alternative to the establishment 'owned' politicians put up by both major political parties," Russell said.

It could also be a wise political move, depending on the outcome of the redistricting process already under way.

The district of roughly 930,000 people is considered among the state's most overpopulated, about one-third larger than it should be, 2010 census data shows. All congressional districts are required to be roughly the same size under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, so the 5th is expected to undergo significant changes.

Russell has learned firsthand that Democrats have little if any chance of winning in the district as it exists now, sprawling across all of Citrus, Hernando, and Sumter counties, most of Lake, Levy, and Pasco counties and portions of Marion and Polk. In 2002, the state Legislature customized the district for Republican candidates, allowing Virginia Brown-Waite to wrest the seat from Democrat Karen Thurman.

Russell lost in the Democratic primary in 2004 and was handily defeated by Brown-Waite in the general elections of 2006 and 2008. He noted that his address might not even wind up in the redrawn district.

One of his top issues, the economy, has been mismanaged by both parties, he said. He would vote to raise the debt ceiling, but said the country might do well to get rid of it altogether.

"It has nothing to do with controlling spending, as the debt ceiling only serves to limit spending that the Congress has already previously approved," he said.

Russell also supports replacing the Affordable Care Act with a plan that would provide Medicare coverage for any American who wants it, with premiums based on ability to pay.

Nugent's party-line votes aren't surprising considering he was "a last minute appointment" by Brown-Waite, Russell said. Facing health concerns, Brown-Waite quietly asked Nugent to run, and he filed at the last minute. That rankled voters on every part of the political spectrum and is likely to be an issue brought up often in next year's race by Nugent's opponents.

"He's in the race? Good for him," Nugent said through a spokesman Thursday. "Honestly, with everything that is at stake right now for the country, my focus is on fixing the problem. There will be time for this type of thing later."

Russell has been known to be aggressive, even combative, on the campaign trail. His rivalry with Brown-Waite turned especially bitter in 2006, when the two made an appearance at a Citrus County forum. Brown-Waite's supporters said Russell tried to grab the head of Brown-Waite's husband, Harvey. Russell denied that.

In October 2007, he became belligerent at a state Democratic Party event in Orlando when officials asked him to leave. The fracas ended with a trespassing citation and a lifetime ban from all Disney properties.

There was an indication this week that Russell plans a more measured approach. Reached by the Times on his cell phone, he asked a reporter to e-mail him questions.

"This is very low key and just getting started," he said. "I'm just not going to say too much right now."

That's a marked change from a candidate who in the past has been happy to keep reporters on the phone for as long as they would listen. Russell said he made the request for e-mailed questions because he was often misquoted during past campaigns.

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Russell has a master's degree in nursing from the University of South Florida. His wife, Chyrisse, is an environmental scientist and consultant.

One other candidate has prefiled for the 5th District race. Eileen Fleming of Clermont is listed as a write-in candidate. The 57-year-old married mother of five was born in Greenwich Village in New York City and has lived in Clermont since 1998. She describes herself as a progressive social justice activist and runs a website, wearewide awake.org.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

John Russell will make a no-party bid for 5th Congressional District 07/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 30, 2011 11:00am]
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